It is the twenty-ninth of September and Fake Aston Villa have just secured their first victory of the season. The English football season can be long and cruel. For others it can be short and cruel. Today we take another step down the path toward one of those ends.
Optimism swept through the Villa camp after a satisfying first win of the season over Stoke City. But it was not without some bad news and why wouldn't it be. We're talking about Aston Villa here. Andi Weimann's injury turned out to be a broken wrist and he's going to miss six weeks. To finish the trampling of my self-esteem the board gave me a monthly update and it wasn't pretty. Going away to Reading is never easy but it's still Reading and fans will want a victory.
Match Day 6 - Reading v Aston Villa
What's this? The pundits have us winning this one? Well I'll be damned. Naturally in the 23rd minute Ian Harte scores a complete fluke of a goal that was supposed to be a cross that instead hit someone and went past Brad Guzan. Noted asshole Jason Roberts makes it 2-0 a minute later and we're back where we were before Stoke. The horror.
Not two minutes later after urging the players forward Stephen Ireland scores and there's life again. Richard Dunne's lack of interest saw him subbed off at half for Ciaran Clark. Reading then gave Villa just what was needed to get back into the match: Pavel Pogrebnyak's second yellow put Reading down to ten men. After a good spell of pressure, Barry Bannan ties it in the 70th minute and that's where it ended at 2-2. The club still sits 19th in the table but are tied for 17th on points with Norwich and Sunderland.
With another two week break until our next match vs. Swansea I scheduled another friendly for the empty weekend, this time against our U18 squad. Swansea, by the way, enter our match in 3rd place while thanks to some other results Villa now sit 20th.
It's never too soon to start thinking about January transfer targets. One player I've always liked is Romanian winger Gabriel Torje. He's an Udinese player who is loaned out at Grenada who play in La Liga. I was pleased to see that he scored 2 goals for Romania in one of their matches until I realized it was against Andorra. Even still, I was compelled to tell the press that I'm a fan of his and would look into signing him. He's currently valued at 3.3M pounds. Often times players will respond to these comments and Torje wasted no time in telling me that he would never sign for Villa. Unfortunately I can't tell him to go fuck himself. Something to think about for FM 14.
Our friendly against the U18s was a great success: a 5-1 win and no injuries. To top it off, Darren Bent was brought into the England squad for a qualifier against Moldova. He made the bench in a 3-1 win for England but didn't make it onto the pitch.
Nigel Spink spoke out saying he thinks I deserve everyone's support! Wait a minute that's not good news at all. That's terrible news. I'm in deep shit. Villa had better beat Swansea.
Before the Swansea match I decide to put Gary Gardner on loan. The center of the pitch is a little crowded and I want Gardner to play enough to develop. I pull him aside to give him my thoughts and he's a fine young man and concurs. Hopefully someone wants him for three months.
Match Day 7 - Aston Villa v Swansea
I notice Swansea's fullbacks are less than good so I'm going to try and exploit the flanks and look for overlap via Bennett and Lowton. I'm sure this will fail miserably but it's worth a shot. Swansea is predicted to win, as no one in their right mind would think the 20th place team is going to beat the 3rd place team.
My pre-match speech is about winning this one for the fans. That's usually the most benign option because people don't usually get too pissed at you. For some reason though both Vlaar and Benteke switched off. This can't be good. I consider individually yelling at them to produce or else I'll drop dead of an aneurysm - but instead I cut my losses and send the men out to face the crowd.
An uneventful first half hour that was carried by Villa resulted in a 34th minute goal from Marc Albrighton from Stephen Ireland made it 1-0. Ireland makes it 2-0 when Villa hit Swansea on the break in the 43rd. Two minutes later Ireland scores again from point blank range after taking a throw in through the back line and I feel like a goddamn world beating genius.
That's when the tides turned on the form of the hottest forward in the league. Danny Graham made it 3-1 right after the teams came out of the locker rooms and that sinking feeling is back: the most dangerous lead in football was in play. Graham struck again in the 57th and I'm pooping into my britches.
The rest of the match isn't without nervy moments but Villa hold on for a 3-2 win. Suddenly goals and points are flowing alike. Out of the basement and into 14th place. Huge win.
Once again my players are having issues with my team talks. All of the assistants said I shouldn't address anything after the match, which is fine advice because we won a match at home and you never want to overpraise the team after a home win which are expected. Perhaps I misjudged the situation because the win had just come against the 3rd place team and the team really did play well, especially Ireland. On the other hand, come on - it's Swansea. They're a good enough club but they're not going finish third. It could just be that the players think I'm goofy American know-nothing who should shut his yap.
In midweek Barry Bannan, who got hurt in the match, had his injury revealed: turns out it's a broken ankle and he's going to be on the shelf for 2-3 months. I'm sure his agent is in hysterics.
It's worth noting that West Ham is somehow top of the table with seven wins, one loss and no draws. It's also worth noting the best team they've played has been Arsenal, who they beat 1-0. Their only loss was to Stoke away - where everyone loses anyway.
Hull and Watford offered to take Gardner on loan and start him for three months. I've accepted both bids.
Leading up to the Southampton away fixture, the talk in the press was about center back Jose Fonte's form and Stephen Warnock facing his old club. I told the press that Fonte could be their weak link (even though he's been quite good so far) and that I don't care about Warnock at all. 5 Live asked me about Rio Ferdinand's inclusion in the England team and I had a little fun and said he is old and should never play for anyone let alone England. Let's see what he thinks of that.
Match Day 8 - Southampton v Aston Villa
The only switches are Karim El Ahmadi for Bannan and Bent for Christian Benteke. I'm giving Darren a shot to lead the line today. I think he's got a couple goals in him and while Benteke has been good, he hasn't been scoring. El Ahmadi had a favorable reaction to my pre match comments so he gets the nod ahead of Westwood and Delph. Warnock gets the start at left back for Southampton. Let's see just how badly he wants to prove me wrong.
Steve Murdoch fancies us - he's the guy I talked to about Rio being old and bad. We must be developing a friendship.
But Rickie Lambert's goal in the 22nd turns everything to liquid butt. At the half my team is in disarray. Ireland's disinterested My team talk alienated Bent, Matthew Lowton, Dunne and Albrighton of all people. I'm not sure how we're going to come back from this but I can't pull everyone off the pitch. I hate these players right now. Hate.
Yet just as all seems lost Gabby Agbonlahor scores from Albrighton on a perfect feed to make it 1-1 just two minutes after the break. In true Villa fashion however, Jason "Don't Call Me Thomas" Puncheon gets behind the defense in the 87th minute and Soton is back in front. Disappointment. And a loss.
Following that football to the groin, I received another board confidence update. I should be doing a little better but clearly it's not as bad as it was before. I will say that getting 1 point from matches against Reading and Southampton is a real problem.
It's derby week as West Brom make their way to Villa Park in what is going to be a sellout. Randy Lerner is excited about it and with the big turn out and the more-annoying-than-ever Baggies visiting, a win will go a long way toward keeping everyone happy. There's a ton of pressure on me for this match.
Charles N'Zogbia makes his return to Villa Park. He didn't seem to give a shit about leaving and apparently holds no ill will toward me. I guess I did him a favor. The league table is starting to shake out as it should. West Ham has dropped two in a row. Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea are all winning consistently. Swansea is sinking and Danny Graham is out three months which puts them in a bind.
Match Day 9 - Aston Villa v West Brom
Matt Lowton, who picked up a minor injury in training, is out so Eric Lichaj is back in at right back. Fabian Delph gets his shot alongside Asier Illarramendi. West Brom routinely kicks my ass in Football Manager games so this is frightening. The media are predicting a draw. That's a new one.
In the 8th minute Darren Bent wins a penalty after an appeal - seemed questionable but we'll take it. He sent Foster the wrong way and scored. Massive. 1-0 Villa. Ireland makes it 2-0 in the 25th on a counter started by Gabby. Bent scores again in the 63rd minute and it's 3-0 Villa. To add insult to injury, Steven Reid picked up his second yellow in the 83rd minute. Imagine the singing at Villa Park. In a dominating performance, Villa outshot West Brom 21 (10) to 5 (2).
Off we go on a high note into what is going to be a long and difficult December.